All posts by seancraddock

High-Speed Blow-Outs Raise Tyre Safety Concerns

For the past few seasons in Formula 1, Pirelli have made tyres which wear faster in order to increase the excitement for watching fans. The idea has lead to teams using different strategies to gain an advantage over their rivals. At this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel suffered a right-rear tyre failure after running on the same tyres for 28 laps. Should the incident be dismissed as simply the risk taken with running longer on the tyres, or should there be genuine safety concerns?

The incident wasn’t the first of the weekend. During Friday practice, Nico Rosberg also suffered a right-rear tyre blow-out just 14 laps into his stint. While the two incidents may not be connected, the catastrophic nature of the failures means the results of both could have been a lot worse. Rosberg’s failure occurred at 305kph just before the fast left-hander of Blanchimont, while Vettel’s was at 320kph just after the high speed Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners. Had the failure been mid-corner, the drivers could have been seriously injured.

When Rosberg’s car was returned to the team, they said they had never seen a failure like it. After Pirelli conducted a full investigation, they could not find the cause of the failure. They concluded that it was most likely debris picked up from when Rosberg ran off the track. Rosberg says he did not run off track. This is something Vettel brought up in the drivers’ briefing on Friday. He was not happy with Pirelli’s excuse.

Vettel spoke out publically after the race, in an interview with the BBC, using colourful language to describe what he felt about the whole situation after his failure. To him the situation is simple. These sort of failures should not happen. I could not agree with him more.

Motorsport is dangerous, there’s no getting away from it. In the GP2 race on Saturday, Daniel de Jong fractured his spine in a crash where Rosberg had his failure. F1 cars are faster, so it doesn’t take much to imagine just how bad Rosberg’s failure could have been.

Pirelli claim the cause of Vettel’s failure was excessive wear. To me that makes sense, I can understand that tryes don’t last forever. However, the nature of the failure is unacceptable. Prior to the failure, Vettel’s lap times were good, he was keeping Grosjean behind him. There were no indications of a problem. It was a complete surprise that the tyre exploded.

If Pirelli knew that 28 laps would be too long for their tyres, they should have told teams. The fact that they didn’t makes me think they didn’t know the risk, and that is worse. If a tyre could explode, the tyre manufacturer should know when that will happen. It is not acceptable that catastrophic failure occurs without warning. There should be some warning signs at least, and when a tyre fails, it should fail in a controlled manner.

Since Vettel’s outburst, it’s clear that something must be done. A driver must have complete trust in his car, and he has clearly lost trust in the tyres. I hope this is the last time we see tyre failures like this. Safety isn’t something to play games with.

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New F1 Licence Rules Could Rule Out Future Champs

The FIA World Motor Sport Council held their annual meeting in Mexico City last week and announced key changes to the way the Formula One Super Licence will be awarded. Incredibly the new criteria, had they always been in place, would have prevented all but one Formula One World Champion since 1997 from entering the sport when they did.

The changes, to be introduced at the start of next year, rank drivers’ achievements in lower categories using a points system. A driver must have enough points to apply for a Super Licence, the licence required to drive an F1 car during a Grand Prix Weekend. The proposal had been made earlier this year, but amid complaints of how certain categories were ranked, the FIA made some adjustments.

From next year onwards, in order to be granted a Super Licence, a driver is required to (among other things) have accumulated 40 points in the three previous years according to the points system below.

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
FIA F2 40 40 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3
GP2 40 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2
F3 European 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
WEC LMP1 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
IndyCar 40 30 20 10 8 6 4 3 2 1
FR3.5 35 25 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1
GP3 30 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1 0
Super Formula 25 20 15 10 7 5 3 2 1 0
WTCC 15 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0
DTM 15 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0
Indy Lights 15 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0
National FIA F4 12 10 7 5 3 2 1 0 0 0
National F3 10 7 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
FR2.0 10 7 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
CIK-FIA Senior 5 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
  • The Formula E champion will be automatically awarded a Super Licence despite 2nd, 3rd, etc.  effectively meaning nothing

I decided to examine the points system and see how it would have affected the current F1 drivers. While it makes no difference now since they already have Super Licences, the list of drivers that would have been ruled out is surprising!

The changes were sparked by Toro Rosso’s signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen, a boy with only one year experience racing cars. So I was expecting it to rule out a lot of younger drivers. But the list of drivers ruled out included race winners, and world champions! Of the current F1 grid, the following drivers had fewer than 40 points when they entered the sport:

Sebastian Vettel
Kimi Räikkönen
Fernando Alonso
Jenson Button
Felipe Massa
Daniel Ricciardo
Marcus Ericsson
Carlos Sainz Jr
Max Verstappen
Will Stevens

Looking back another two seasons and you can add Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Kamui Kobayashi, Jean-Éric Vergne, André Lotterer, Max Chilton, and Giedo van der Garde to that list.

I could have gone on, but I decided to just focus on notable drivers from the past. Two legends of the sport, Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli would also have needed more experience before racing in F1. Most surprising, however, both Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen also fell short of the 40 points, even when you replace their achievements with today’s equivalent.

All in all, this means that the only world champion since 1997 who would have qualified under the new regulations is Lewis Hamilton. In fact he would have 88 points, and could have entered a year earlier.

This all begs the question, is the new system necessary? Some of the best drivers in the history of the sport are on the list. There have been very few bad, or dangerous drivers in the past. The only one I can think of in recent years is Yuji Ide, who was stripped of his Super Licence after only four races after numerous crashes. Amazingly, he would still have gotten a Super Licence under the new rules! So who are they trying to stop from entering the sport?

The points system does not just apply to Formula One. A similar licence for Formula E is being introduced next season which affects the current drivers! In order to be awarded an ‘e-Licence’, a driver must have 20 points in the previous three years, OR have taken part in three ePrix in the last season, OR have previously held a Super Licence.

By my calculations this means that six of the drivers from last season are not allowed to race next season! Don’t worry, Yuji you’ll be alright since you had a Super Licence in the past.

Oliver Turvey, Simona de Silvestro, Matthew Brabham, Marco Andretti, Katerine Legge, and Antonio Garcia will not be allowed eLicences next season under the new rules. Turvey and de Silvestro raced at the end of last season and may have expected to continue into next season. Turvey had two solid points finishes in London, yet according to the FIA he is now too inexperienced to race a Formula E car.

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Circuit of Ireland: Day Three

Craig Breen took a 6.2 second victory over Kajetan Kajetanowicz at Circuit of Ireland after a tense battle which came down to the final stage. I decided to go to the end of the final stage to see the drivers, which allowed me to see Craig celebrate with his family.

With two stages left to go Breen held what looked to be a comfortable 20 second lead over Kajto, but an off on the second to last stage damaged his car and put the Polish rival back in contention. There were many anxious faces at the finish line as Craig Breen’s family paced back and forth listening to the radio for the final result. When the news came through that Breen won the rally the family were in tears, they know more than anyone how much this means to Craig.

Having learnt from yesterday, I planned my route carefully to see as much of the stages as possible and used Google Street view to make sure I would have a good vantage point at my chosen spot. My favourite spot was on stage 15. I was perched on top of a wall above the road. From there I could see the cars come over the hill, brake hard on the run down to the bottom of the valley, and power up the hill, passing beneath me as they slowed and did a handbrake turn through a sharp right.

So how do you follow a rally? The key is to plan. If you show up at the first corner you find, you could find a decent spot, but if you want to get the best view, a quick study of the route can tell you a lot. If you’re at the bottom of a hill, you won’t see as much as at the top, and if you really plan well, you can get really close to the cars as they pass!

I plan to write at least one more post about the rally. But for now, I’m off for a well deserved beer!

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Circuit of Ireland: Day Two

Motorsport is dangerous. It’s something that is said time and time again, and for good reason. Rally crews compete because of a love for the sport and each person knows the dangers.

On the first stage of the day I picked a spot near the end of the stage. The cars and tyres will be at their operating temperatures having completed most of the stages, and the drivers will have more confidence to push so I thought it’d be interesting. I stood on a gate to see them come over the crest and power through a hard right hander.

In between cars I got talking to other spectators including Chris Ingram’s father. It was interesting to hear his thoughts on his son competing. He’s clearly proud and supportive, but there’s still anxiety. I noticed that he left quietly just before Chris’ car passed.

I quickly found out that following every stage would be impossible, unless I just wanted to see the top drivers. I wanted to watch the junior drivers, and the Tuthill Porsche 911.

The Porsche is part of the RGT series and is the same car that won the Monte Carlo Rally a few months ago. I was chatting to Robert Woodside yesterday and he said everything is the same from Monte, even the suspension (“unfortunately”, he joked). The Irish roads are a fair bit bumpier and the stiff suspension means Robert’s going to have an uncomfortable ride.

Overall I missed three stages today, which isn’t bad. I got to see at least some of each route, including the longest of the day, Hamilton’s Folly. There weren’t very many vantage points at the corner I chose, but I found a spot to see the run down the mountain, through a fast left-right chicane, and out again.

The drivers had already tried the stage earlier in the day so I didn’t think anyone would be caught out. I was wrong. Scottish driver Euan Torburn carried too much speed in his Fiesta, hitting a grass verge on the exit. I caught the impact on camera, right before the car speared into a hedge. The Fiesta recovered from the incident almost as quick as it started, but it was still a close call for the crew.

After a 8 stages Craig Breen leads Robbie Barrable by 1 second with others close behind. It was always going to be close and with 10 stages tomorrow, it’s far from over!

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Circuit of Ireland: Day One

Qualifying for the Circuit of Ireland took place today on a short 9km sprint up Whinney Hill. The rain held off which made my first experience as a rally spectator a lot easier!

With my car loaded and a hot cup of coffee, I set off early to give myself a chance to choose a vantage point. As well as warm clothes and a chair, perhaps the most essential part of a spectators luggage is a map. Knowing what roads are emergency access or poor viewing is important and the rally organisers did a great job displaying that.

The day started with a practice session, where drivers could test different setups to have a balanced car. I chose the exit of a sharp left turn at the top of the hill. I thought it would give me a chance to see cars slide through the corner -but what I got exceeded expectations!

There are a number of different cars competing this weekend, from the four wheel drive, winged ERC cars; to the smaller, front wheel drive ERC Junior cars, and many more in between. I hope to write a full post about this when the rally’s over, but you can clearly see the difference in car characteristics through the corner.

There was a break between practice and qualifying so I found myself a new spot to have a change of pace (pun intended). I made my way to the run up to the same left corner to see the cars at full speed before they hit the brakes. It was the fastest part of the stage and meant I got to see and hear the cars as they slammed on the brakes for the sharp left.

So it turns out you can park pretty close to the stage if you plan it right (I didn’t even need the bike) and since each stage is different, it’s difficult to find the right vantage point. But whether it’s at a sharp corner, or a long, fast section, you are sure to see the cars on the limit!

The first competitive stages get underway tomorrow, with Ireland’s Robbie Barrable on the road. My money’s on car #1 Craig Breen for the outright win, but it looks to be a close battle. I got to hang out with some of the drivers this evening and there’s a clear excitement from the Irish guys, particularly Breen -this is the win he’s itching for.

Check back tomorrow night to see how I got on chasing the drivers from stage to stage. So far, this has been a great experience! See below for some pictures from today!

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European Rally Stars Hit Irish Shores

The Circuit of Ireland Rally takes place this weekend, and for the second year running, the event will be part of the FIA European Rally Challenge (ERC). Top drivers from across Europe will join national rally stars – meaning a record 150 cars will compete through the Irish Countryside. I will be there, watching on from the roadside, and following the competitors from stage to stage.

This will be my first time ever following a major motorsport event live. I attended the Stormont Super Special Stage for Rally Ireland 2007, but following a full rally is a whole different ball (or should that be car?) game. Unlike a lot of sports, you can’t just sit in one spot for a whole rally and see everything. There are no big screens, no commentators, and if you want a seat you have to bring one!

Rallies consist of a series of stages run over a couple of days, typically a weekend. Each stage is a route along closed-off public roads. The competitors have a strict schedule to follow, and must drive the rally car along open public roads to get to each stage. Normally, three stages will be completed in the morning, and the afternoon will consist of the same three stages, only in the reverse direction. You still with me? Okay, apologies for the explanation, but I just wanted to illustrate to those unfamiliar to rallying why it is difficult to follow it live.

So how do you follow a rally? Well since I’ve never done this before, I’m probably not the right person to ask. I have a bicycle packed in my car, and a rucksack filled with warm clothes, snacks, and that all important seat – so I’m willing to find out. I’m hoping to post a summary at the end of each day, and hopefully by the time I’m eating Easter eggs, I’ll have no trouble answering that question.

The cars hit the roads tomorrow for practice and qualifying, before the competitive stages on Friday and Saturday. Tomorrow’s runs will be done on a single stage as many times as the drivers want, to find the best setup for the Irish roads. I’ll use it to suss out a few things, such as how close I can park, and how to find a good vantage point.

Check back Thursday night to see how I got on, but until then, have a look at the video below to see what the Circuit of Ireland Rally looks like.

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NASCAR’s Busch Brothers Sidelined Indefinitely

Joey Logano went to victory lane for his first time at Daytona, but the 2015 Daytona 500 marked another first. It was the first time in over 13 years that neither of the Busch brothers were in the Sprint Cup field. Both Karl and Kyle are sidelined indefinitely, but for entirely different reasons.

On Friday evening, NASCAR announced that former champion Kurt Busch is suspended indefinitely after a court determined he had committed domestic violence against his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll. Nobody likes to hear about these cases, but unfortunately it happens every day across the world. NASCAR’s swift actions publicises these stories. The support for Driscoll has been pouring in, and hopefully it can encourage more victims of domestic violence to come forward.

Just 24 hours after his older brother was sidelined, Kyle Busch was involved in a big crash which has ruled him out of competition indefinitely. Kyle struck an inside concrete barrier head-on at nearly 100mph, breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot.

The crash occurred during the season-opening Xfinity Series race on Saturday. Kyle’s car speared into the concrete barrier after losing control. The crash can be seen below, just look at how hard his car hits the inside barrier and the resulting damage to the car.

Over the past year, Daytona have increased safety at the speedway by installing more SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barriers. These barriers have been proven to reduce the severity of impacts and have without doubt saved lives. The stretch of wall which Kyle struck was not protected by these barriers because officials didn’t believe there was a risk of cars hitting it.

In the wake of Busch’s crash, the track officials immediately held their hands up and admitted that they made a mistake. They vow to install SAFER barriers everywhere on the circuit, and even made sure to install tyre walls ahead of Sunday’s Daytona 500 in the mean time. It’s a good thing they did as the #42 car of Kyle Larson hit the very same stretch of barrier on the last lap of the 500.

NASCAR is never short of discussion and controversy, but the way the sport dealt with the situations showed how serious and committed it is to keeping drivers safe. It’s a shame it takes a big accident to make changes, but hopefully it encourages more tracks to install SAFER barriers on all walls.

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